Shoreditch was the bass and treble of the acid house and post punk scene, changing the face of nightlife in 80's and 90's London for good. While the mainstream music narrative tells of hotspots like Camden and Kensington, the original underground party was here, in EC2A: the home of the creatives.
Amongst those creatives were some of the most notable DJs, musicians, producers and promoters to work in Britain in the last 20 years. Here we've listed just a few, going back in time through the eyes of Ian Tregoning, who has to be our first mention:
Our guide to the folk that formed the New Romantic movement, Ian Tregoning became a blitz kid himself having once produced for Swiss electro band Yello and miraculously signed Adam and the Ants.
"I was in my 20s at the time, had just left a technical degree where I was learning to become a physicist. I'd had a breakdown: it was all maths, all very intense and I just didn't fit in because I was fascinated by the people in the field rather than just the subject. So I decided I wanted to do this instead and ended up working on Pop Muzik, by M. It became a huge hit in 1978, and meanwhile Adam had signed to London Records and they did a single that was disastrous. Adam was like 'this has gone belly up,' which it had because they'd done a novelty song and didn't have an incredible following like The Clash or The Pistols. One day he just came over to our office to check out what we were doing and have a cup of tea - he didn't drink alcohol and he didn't smoke. Funnily enough I met him again at a party upstairs in the Archway Tavern about a month down the line, and a week later, they were in the studio recording with us."
Founder of the Inky Blackness label, he now writes commercial tracks for the sound branding of hit TV series' like Better Call Saul and Sex in the City, as well as blockbuster films such as Transformers. His work is laced with synthpop and he fondly recalls developing his love for the genre while vibing away his youth in speakeasies, locked-in with the fabled people of a legendary era of British music.
“There's Mr Weatherall, of course. He's a like a North Star really.”
Rooted in electronic music as much as it is rooted in him, the person and the name that is Andrew Weatherall is still growing: pumping out beats at all the best festivals after a hugely successful career in the vanguard of 80s acid house. Starting out as a fashion/music/football/culture writer for fanzine Boy’s Own, Andy then narrowed down his interests. He began DJing at the underground dens that kickstarted a rave culture here in the East End and across Britain.
He went on to start and produce innovative techno outfit the Sabres of Paradise assisted by Geoff Barrow of Portishead and A. Carthy, better known as Mr Scruff. 30 years on, and Mr Weatherall is still ahead of the game: producing F@•k Buttons’ latest album and his first solo record A Pox on the Pioneers.
“Henry Crallan started a studio on Hoxton Square, number 43/44. It's in the south-east corner. I think it was in the mid 80s that he opened it with one of the guys from Queen, John Deacon. We always thought he was joking. "Oh yeah, Queen. Sure, Henry, yeah.”
Henry Crallan was a lover of the piano and played the keys for two of Kevin Ayers' albums: Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories in 1974 and Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought of You - The Island Albums in 2004. But that was his lesser known life, he was in fact the production manager for Queen, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Metallica and Bruce Springsteen (and more). However it actually all kicked off for him when he established The Square Recording Studio on 43-44 Hoxton Square, 30 years ago. His undercover partner in crime was indeed John Deacon, the bass player from Queen who Henry was touring with at the time. They went on to collaborate with studio owners including the likes of Hugh Padgham, Matt Johnson (The The), and Flood and Alan Moulder. The humble spot became the springboard for setting up worldwide production company Miloco: around 30 studios exist solely in London under that name and artists such as Florence and the Machine, Adele, Madness and Oasis have worked in the global iterations. Despite many opportunities to realise his investment purely for commercial gain, Henry stayed true to his grassroots approach till his passing earlier this year, keeping his service and employees at the heart of his business.
“There was an interesting guy called James Lynch, who was one of the developers around here. He used to have a building on Old Street that was funded by illegal parties - I saw Afrika Bambaataa in there once.”
Possibly one of the most important agents of East London's artistic infrastructure, James Lynch (better known as Scottish James) erected over 200 studios, apartments and hybrid spaces for the pioneers of early Shoreditch. This was the beginning of ‘The Ditch’: a village of creatives who instigated the DIY/handmade movement that still exists, safe from commercialisation in the area's tucked away corners. Once the city boys moved into the area to rub shoulders with these representatives of bohemian cool, James escaped to the far west of the UK to set up the FForest retreat, a salt of the earth getaway in Wales surrounded by ‘beautiful deserted beaches, verdant green valleys, majestic hills and crags.’ Here's his appearance on The Do Lectures in line with its ethos:
“I remember the basement of Scottish James' building on Old Street. I saw Dave Dorrell and the other DJs from the band MARRS in there. Yeah, the guys who did 'Pump Up The Volume', they used to work down there.”
The love child of bands A.R. Kane and Colourbox, MARRS was a one-time recording act in 1987, when they released their only ever commercial disc. It was additionally made up of DJs like Dave Dorrell, who helped produce true wonder hit 'Pump Up the Volume': a song that was #1 in the UK, Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand and went on to be nominated for a Grammy in 1989. That earned it a spot on DJ playlists in clubs throughout the late 80s and early 90s, and invitations to work with De La Soul, the Pet Shop Boys and Tina Turner. Dave lives in Berlin where runs his own music management company.
“He was a legend. He knows everybody. If you want to know anyone in the area, speak to Scottish Gary.”
“Even his mum calls him Scottish Gary,” says Ian. Yes, an icon of East London, Gary Fairfull or Scottish Gary is partially responsible for the physical manifestation of the scene: founding alt-establishments like Plough Yard, an ‘art gallery’ back in its heyday. “'Yeah, we've got another exhibition on,’ he’d say," remembers Ian, rolling his eyes and reminiscing about the rehearsals and raves that would go down there, akin to those of Paradise Garage in NY. Gary went on to establish Gary's Place, a speakeasy on top floor of the corner of Cremer Street and Kingsland Road which started out as his flat. His colourful past is documented in this story in Vice. Illicit partying aside, The King’s Head (an eccentric members only nightclub) in Haggerston and Shoreditch House have all benefitted from the input of Mr Fairfull.
A music festival for dance cultures ranging from drum & bass and techno to rave and house; Tribal Gathering is a collective that’s blown the roof off venues since the first ever techno carnival in 1993. The original promoters - Paul Shurey, Rob Vega, Roger Spurrell, Tennant and Jill Trick - united for this undertaking in 1989, having already been responsible for epic bashes like Raindance which was first held in Beckton, East London. Ian DJed for the troupe further down the line in the neon 90s at an old gin warehouse on Pitfield Street; “the carpenters who owned it transformed the space into a woodwork shop across four floors, with a rickety spiral staircase going through it all,” Ian recalls, eliciting further memories of the shenanigans he and his mates got up to, and the classic atmosphere of these parties:
“Here's a funny story. It was a beautiful mid-90s summer's evening and I'd been invited to one of these legendary parties at the warehouse. I was with Steve McFadden and this guy Danny when I heard, so told them to come. 300-400 people would be at these parties and every single one had to go through the vodka icebergs: where someone would pour vodka though a hole in a huge chunk of ice and your mouth would be waiting on the other end. The next day, I bumped into a friend of mine, who said ‘Oh, you know what? I think I'm going to have to ease off things. I was on the roof at the party and I swore I saw Phil Mitchell from EastEnders.’ We thought we’d lost Steve and he'd just gone off home, but he was loving it on the roof while I was DJing downstairs all night."